Sunday, December 22, 2013

Christmas in July....or Africa

Hey, almost forgot to talk about the baptism I had today! His name is Olivier and is only about 20 years old. He's a really funny guy and is great to teach. I found him when I got here but he's really fun to talk to and really outgoing... also has a pretty cool moto. He was pretty nervous to be baptized but the baptism went very smoothly. I wish I had taken a picture of the clothes he came to the baptism in... they were pretty stylish African! Maybe he'll come to Church in the same outfit Sunday and I can grab a picture of it!

Thank you to everybody for the kind words of encouragement that were sent to me this past week as well as the prayers... they really mean a lot to me and I know that they really helped me! 

So here's what went down... last week (last P-Day that is) I sent a pretty explicit email to President Weed about what happened that past week. Let's just say, I did not hold anything back as to what happened and how I felt about the whole week. 

I think because of my letter and that of Elder Mary's, President decided to meet with all three of us briefly on P-Day, right before we went to a missionary activity. President really didn't say anything new, but what he did say was that we really just need to get over this and that now all of this would be water under the bridge. After our little talk, he got up and then we all had a big group hug.

Now, I'm not sure what happened, but after that... all of the bad feelings I had and the stress that came from the week just slowly seemed to melt away, to my astonishment. Basically, slowly but surely things just started getting better the rest of the day. Finally, at the end of that day, I felt ready to forgive him and ask him to forgive me and the way I treated him all this week. And then, he did the same thing to me (asked me to forgive him and forgave me for the way I acted as well). Afterwards, Elder Mary and him did the same thing. 

And then, after that... things were back to normal. Even better than normal. Whenever we were walking some place, we would walk together and talk together. I don't know how it happened, but in a blink of an eye... all the bad that happened was just washed away! Last week when I wrote my letter home, I honestly did not think that this kind of miracle could happen. I thought it would at least take months before anything would get back to the way it was. Honestly, I am astonished. 

Have miracles ceased to exist?  NO! "And now, O all ye that have imagined up unto yourselves a god who can do no miracles, I would ask of you, have all these things passed, of which I have spoken? Has the end come yet? Behold I say unto you, Nay; and God has not ceased to be a God of miracles." Moroni 9:15

So, just like that... this past week was great! It was just like any other week and I am so happy to have just had an ordinary week with no crazy problems like last week! Now I think I can really appreciate having just an ordinary missionary week! 

Okay... now that that is all taken care of...I can go on to answering a question that a lot of people have been asking lately! And that question is, what is Christmas like in Benin?

Well... pretty boring so far! I think I've told multiple people that if people told me it was July, I probably wouldn't think twice! But here is a list of similarities and differences between Christmas in Benin and Christmas in Pennsylvania:

1. It's Colder - It's the Harmattan! What's that you might ask? It's the dry and dusty season of West Africa. What happens is that the trade winds pick up the dust off the Sahara and bring them down to West Africa. What does that do? Make things really dry and cool, much like back home when winter hits! It is really cold in the mornings here and my lips are almost always chapped now (thanks for all the Chapstick, Dad!) The sky also does look a lot dustier than it has before, which makes for really cool sunsets and sunrises! It's really funny though because people here would make you think it's below 0 degrees... they are all wearing long sleeves and even the Zimijans (moto taxi drivers) are wearing big winter coats... all the meanwhile, I'm still sweating, even though I do feel cold! 

2. There are sales and some store decorations - Surprisingly, in driving around town, I do see a lot of the big name brand stores having sales and wishing people a "Joyeux Noël" and a "Bonne Année". I know that the Sony store downtown is having a big sale (not really sure who is going to be buying a PS4 out here though!). A lot of the little stores out here do hire window painter people that paint Santa's and little decorations on their windows and doors! They vary in quality but it does make things just a little more festive. 

3. People do get off for Christmas and (I think) places will close - From what I can tell, most places will be closing down on Christmas Eve and Christmas itself because we've been having to work our schedules around Christmas.

4. PAAARRTTTY - My gosh, I don't know how people afford it but they sure do love to party out here. Actually, I do know how they fund their parties because I have seen a billboard out here of a bank that encourages people to take a loan as big as 1,000,000 FCFA ($2000) to fund their Christmas and New Years parties. Anyway, the way I know a lot of people are partying is because all the schools are partying it up. The school across the street from us went crazy the other day and blocked the road with their tent thing (basically, to throw parties/funerals/weddings here, people set up these huge tents in the middle of the road and have parties under them). And then their speakers. BOOM BOOM BOOM. Like I said my very first week in Africa, if there's one thing that Africans love it's blasting their speakers at FULL BLAST. Also, I've been seeing a lot more of the party tents throughout the town which creates a lot of detours for us and makes it a pain in the butt to drive through town. 

Christmas lights... yeah, the reason why the picture is mostly black is because... well... they're pretty lame Christmas lights.

1. Nobody really decorates - Christmas Lights? No. Garland? No. Wreaths? No. Ornaments? No. I have seen a total of one house with a few Christmas lights on it. Even going to people's houses, you see no signs of Christmas, whatsoever. 

2. No Amazing Christmas Food Specials - Yeah... not a whole lot of people ordering Peppermint Hot Chocolate from the local Starbucks... oh wait, there is no local Starbucks (although, I don't think that the street coffee vendors have any special holiday flavors, but I have never ordered so... guess we can't be 100% sure on that one!). Haven't seen any special cookies or baked goods either... though Sister Eastmond did give us a delicious carrot bread with raisins for Christmas which was AMAZING! 

3. Creepy Santa Masks - One thing that you don't see in the states are "(in the) street vendors.' What I mean by that is people sell you products while you're sitting for a red light. So, as of lately they have started selling the creepiest Santa masks you could ever imagine. I don't know who on earth would actually buy them, but I guess there's a market because... well... they're selling them. 

4. It Just Doesn't Feel Like Christmas - To be honest, the biggest difference here is that there really isn't any Christmas spirit here. The music they blast at the bars and in boutiques is still awful sounding African music. People don't act any happier than usual. I don't know... there just really isn't that Christmas spirit that you would feel back home. I really think that's been the hardest thing for me to adjust for this Christmas season... the fact that it doesn't even feel like Christmas. Even at Church, you would think we would be singing tons of Christmas songs all the time... however, we end up just singing Silent Night almost every Sunday. I would definitely say that that has been the hardest thing to get used to... the fact that all of December has really just felt like July!


A few people have asked me if it has been easier for me to remember the true meaning of Christmas this season as compared to back home. To be honest, I think it would have to be harder because, like I said before, sometimes I forget entirely that it's even Christmas time. 

However, that doesn't mean I have forgotten the true meaning of Christmas, the birth of Jesus Christ. I've shared with a few people my favorite Christmas scripture, and I'll do it again here. It's 1 Nephi 11:16, which says, "Knowest thou the condescension of God?" I hope we all remember how amazing the Birth of Christ actually was and also, what an extraordinary gift the Lord gave to us in allowing his son to come to earth and do what he would eventually do. Jesus, who before was one among the Gods, came down to Earth in the most humble birth possible: in a manger... not even a barn, but a manger! If you ask me, it doesn't sound like the way a king would be born! And yet, that was still good enough for Christ, the King of Kings.

I'm so grateful for the magnificent gift the Lord has given unto us. Like any gift we receive during Christmas, the best thing we can do to use the gift the Lord has given us is by applying the principles and teachings that Christ taught into our own lives, by inviting others unto him, and by remembering the sacrifice that he made for each and every one of us. I think that's the greatest way we can say thanks to our Heavenly Father for Christ. The greatest way we can thank him for the love he gave to us in sending his son is by showing our love and gratefulness for this wonderful gift. 

I hope you all have a wonderful Christmas day, full of love, gifts, and cinnamon rolls. Even though I'm a thousand miles away, you are all in my heart and I think of everyone constantly!

With love,

Elder Hawkins

Note from the Fro: My "Mom" heart is so full of gratitude to all of you who wrote encouraging words to Elder Hawkins this past week.  He was so astonished by the outpouring of love and support. Not only did he and his companions get past their difficult spot, but they had a baptism!  A God of miracles indeed.  May you all have a joyous and wonderful Christmas season! 

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